Mission Delhi – Unnamed Monkey, Hazrat Chirag Dehlavi’s Sufi Shrine
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He has no known friends or relatives. Utterly alone, he seems to prefer his own company. This unnamed monkey lives in the dargah of Hazrat Chirag Dehlavi.
He first surfaced in the south Delhi Sufi shrine during the lockdown early this year, when the city was reeling under the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “No idea where he came from,” confesses Syed Moeez Ahmed Nasiri, a khadim, one of the shrine’s hereditary caretakers, who lives in the dargah with his family. The residences of the caretakers are situated at one end of the sprawling courtyard that is crisscrossed with centuries-old graves of known and unknown mystics.
The monkey spends a large part of the day in this courtyard. Right now he is sitting by a rose-strewn grave. His expressive face has a curious kind of inner transparency, enabling one to interpret in it a reflection of one’s own feelings.
The serene place shelters a variety of creatures, including at least five cats and scores of pigeons. The resident birds stay hyperactive during the day, flying across the shrine’s many domes; at night they disperse themselves within the courtyard’s six gigantic neem trees. “We also used to have lots of mynahs and parrots but most have gone away… don’t know where,” says Peerzada Aamir Ahmad Nasiri, another khadim in the shrine. The peacocks have completely disappeared, he says. “They haven’t been seen since the courtyard was paved with marble some 10 years ago.”
The monkey is an introvert but everyone in the dargah, including the fakirs, have grown fond of him. “He is a bhoodha bandar (aged monkey),” asserts fakir Muhammed Qadir, explaining that “he walks very slowly, and like any old person he eats only soft food.”
The monkey is now sitting by the dargah’s gateway, amid a handful of alm seekers and devotees. Nobody appears to be alarmed by his presence. A pilgrim enters and starts distributing bananas to everyone in the shrine; he hands one to the monkey, too. The monkey peels the skin (with some indifference), and goes on to eat the fruit very slowly.
At night, the monkey retires to a roof in the dargah.
[This is the 437th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Portrait of an introvert